Interviews. Critically engaging with.

For this week’s prep activity for the designing research unit we were asked to find an example of an interview and engage critically with it. I chose to look at one of my own interview schedule’s I used when undertaking research at degree level. I was asked to produce research which evaluated the services offered by a children’s centre for the pre-school children whom attended. I had three different groups of participants I was interviewing which included parents, staff and the manager which meant that I had three different interview schedules, the topics were similar but were more specific for certain participants, for example, questions around the policy frameworks of Early Years education were asked to the manager but not to parents or staff. In order to gain my participants I had to work directly with the manager of the centre in contacting parents in which she kindly sent out requests to take part in the research and when it came to recruiting staff members I had done several weeks of observations and asked all members of staff involved in the care of the pre-school children to take part. The response rate was quite low from both groups but in the end I managed to gain three parent participants and three staff participants and conducted semi-structured interviews with five of the participants with one parent answering questions via e-mail. Within the interview schedules I had areas which I wanted to cover and these were the base of the interview and although I wanted the participants to be free to express their views throughout I did have to try to guide the interview back to these areas as these were topics which the evaluation requested information about. Thinking back now, this approach was needed for the type of research I was conducting but it did limit the data and meant that some issues could have been overlooked, however time constraints and the wishes of the organisation whom requested the research meant that I was unable to carry out totally unstructured interviews. As these were the first interviews I had ever conducted, I know that I probably didn’t use all the best techniques in the world but I think interviewing is a hard skill to master and takes a lot of experience to get it right. However, I think that the observations and the time I spent within the children’s centre really helped me to develop good relationships with the staff and the manager and when it came to do the interviews, the staff and manager had known me for a couple of months which I think was valuable in being able to gain insights which were more reflective of the reality of the centre and truthful insights but at the same time could of skewed my interpretations of the data as relationships had been formed.

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New materialism and post-humanism?

In the most recent session of theory and philosophy, Maggie MacLure and Sylvie Allendyke led a discussion on ‘Living with the mess of contradiction and complexity’. The session explored the new-materialism or new-empiricism turn which has links to more post-human theories , turning assumptions about identity, knowledge, language and reality on their heads. Maggie explained that new-materialism emerged out of a critique of the post-structuralist theory of thought and recognises the complexities and entanglements which occur in language, discourse, reality, the human and the non-human. It also looks at how matter is entangled and in constant change and movement rather than static and fixed meanings and concepts which is a dominant strand of post-structuralist thought. It was argued that new-materialism prioritises difference as the engine of meaning making rather than the imposition of sameness, creating different notions of agency which emerges through entanglements with other bodies. New-materialism is however, a very messy and complex channel of understanding phenomena but I also produces new and interesting meanings of the world which may be overlooked with theories such as post-structuralism. It disrupts starting points and works with rather than against that phenomena which might not be so easily evidenced.

A point which I found interesting is it’s scepticism of representing the world and social phenomena just through language and argues that not everything can be captured by language. I understand this by thinking about when a researcher is observing a social phenomena for example, when I observed an early years setting for an applied research project to evaluate pre-school provision at a children’s centre, language or words were sometimes a complex and difficult way to represent what I was watching. Also, language can sometimes be useless when trying to explain certain behaviours or cultural norms from an outsider’s interpretations or point of view. When thinking about my future research, new-materialism may help me to create meaning from my data even when it seems too difficult or complicated to represent with language and words and this may give me more confidence in producing more messy and fluid research which may not necessarily have fixed or static meanings.

Statistics so far…

I have to admit, that at first I was a little daunted when starting the quantitative sessions as I thought my ability to understand statistics and how they work would be quite limited. However, in the first session when we learnt about the fundamental basics such as, probability theory and normal distribution curve’s I found it quite easy to grasp and understand and I could feel my views on statistics and quantitative methods and analysis changing quite positively. The second session on different types of statistical tests was more challenging but again, I tried to be open-minded to what we can get out of this type of analysis as researchers and I think in terms of ease and time, using quantitative methods and analysis can be beneficial. I did find it slightly tricky to decide on which statistical test you need to use for different types of data and I also needed clarification on the difference between trying to find a relationship between data and finding a difference between data which was explained to me as a relationship may look at one sample and the data would be compared for example, gender and maths attainment, and difference is when you want to look at two samples against each other for example, males and females.

I think the aspect I still find frustrating with this type of analysis is that a statistical test such as a Chi Squared may show that there is a relationship based on the probability score but it cannot tell you what type of relationship for example, if it is positive or negative, and thus this is when qualitative analysis and interpretation is required to try to explain the phenomena. So for example, with the fictional data set we had been given, I found that there was a relationship between playing computer games and eating cheese based on the low probability score, however, that was where this finding stops which I find very limiting.

However, what I have learnt in the statistical sessions is that it is incredibly important to know what statistical tests you will need to use based on the data you will gain from the questions you will ask, as without this knowledge, the analysis done can often be wrong and unreliable. Therefore, planning your questions and anticipating what type of data you will gain and whether you want to look at difference or a relationship should be given a lot of attention at the beginning of the research rather than nearer the end. I think that my ideas have changed about quantitative methods and analysis and I look forward to learning more about the types of questions used in questionnaires and the type of statistical data this will produce.

Statistics in the media…To trust or not to trust, that is the question?

This week’s session was an introduction into quantitative methods and SPSS and we were asked to bring a statistical artefact from the media in preparation for analysing the use of statistics in everyday life. My bug bear with the use of or misuse of statistics is in particular health statistics, so I tried to find the most ridiculous article based around health. It didn’t take long, especially when I started looking at the Daily Mail online and I found a perfect example of the way statistics are used inappropriately by the media. The article was titled ‘Glass of wine a week can cut chances of pregnancy by a third’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2465520/Glass-wine-week-cut-chances-pregnancy-third.html).

The use of statistics in the title immediately manipulates the reader into thinking that it is true for every women across the globe even though when you read on, the results came from 91 women in a fertility clinic in New York. This not only means that the sample was incredibly small and therefore the results cannot be generalised for the whole of the female population but the fact that the results have come from women who are already struggling with fertility makes the results almost void to the average fertile woman. Although the study may have found a link between alcohol consumption and fertility for the 91 women already struggling to become pregnant, there is not enough sufficient evidence to say that there is a definite correlation between drinking alcohol and reducing the chance of becoming pregnant.

This article is only one example of how the media use statistics which are lacking in real evidence or truth to manipulate the population into believing certain claims or buying certain products and what I have learnt is that one should always be wary when statistics and the media are concerned.

Communities of Practice, Figured Worlds and Situated Learning

I found this session very interesting especially as it gave me new insights into how we can understand learning and how we can make meaning from our learning. Yvette Solomon led the session and took us through her journey of theoretical perspectives which have shaped her research over the last 10 years. Yvette began with ‘Communities of Practice’ (Wenger 1998), a social theory of learning which challenged the previous assumptions that learning is an individual process with no connection to the outside world and alternatively looked at learning as a lived experience that is more bound up with social phenomenon and our participation in the social world that we live in (Wenger 1998).  From this Wenger theorised that we are all part of communities of practice such as a school, a workplace, a religious group or even a family and that for the individual, these communities of practice mean that learning is about “engaging and contributing to the practices of their communities” (Wenger 1998 pp.7) and for the community, learning becomes a process of “refining their practice and ensuring new generations of members” (Wenger 1998 pp.7). I found this theory incredibly useful in thinking about my own research into the experiences of teachers as this theory would support the view that teachers across the country belong to a community of practice and that their experiences may be shared and therefore extremely similar in each educational sector. It also got me thinking, that wider educational forces such as, secondary education or post-compulsory education are communities of practice and this may be why certain conflicts or constraints between the teacher and the wider educational narrative exist.

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Yvette then went on to her move away from communities of practice to theories of figured worlds (Holland 2001) which is more interested with concepts of identity and how individuals self-author themselves and play out their identities within the society in which they live with a particular focus on gender and the way meanings about gender are negotiated by individuals and groups in society (Hollands et al 2001). This also flagged up issues which I could relate to my research as Yvette discussed that fact that when interviewing her participants, their narratives were very fluid and not fixed and often had multiple voices running throughout and Yvette pointed out that what a person might say in an interview on one day could be completely different to what they would say the next and that it is impossible to gain the absolute truth from the individual’s narrative. Although this is a pessimistic view on research and begs the question of ‘why do we bother?’ it does also highlight the complexity of analysing qualitative narratives and that the researcher must be as transparent in this process as possible whilst acknowledging the fluidity of interview narrative and that absolute truth cannot be gained.

Situated learning (Lave and Wenger 1991) was also another concept Yvette explored and this concept sees learning from engagement and participation in social practices and processes rather than from the individual acquisition of skills and knowledge (Lave and Wenger 1991) which I think would be useful if undertaking research into how students learn or how they conceptualise their learning.

References:

Holland, D., Lachicotte, W., Jr., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E (1991), Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ethics in research… are they always straight forward?

Today’s core design session on ethics in research really opened my eyes to the complicated and difficult nature of being ‘ethical’ in research. Although there are plenty of ethical guidelines and principles in educational and social research, what I have learnt is that they are not just simply a checklist to tick off when beginning research, but more of an on going reflexive process which need to be engaged with throughout the research project as different situations and contexts will involve ethical principles being interpreted in different ways. This reminds me of when I was on my driving test with 5 minutes to go until it was over and the instructor asked me to pull over and then pull off again into the road. At the end of the test when he told me I had passed, he said that he had been very close to failing me as he felt that although I was following what I had been taught to do i.e. moving my head to check my blind spot before pulling off, I wasn’t actually looking at my blind spot at all. This resonates with my understanding of how a researcher needs to fully engage with ethical considerations during research rather than just ‘performing’ them as I did with moving my head to my blind spot on my driving test. However, I have also learnt that it is impossible to anticipate what ethical dilemma’s may arise and how they will be dealt with within the researcher and that there may never be a ‘correct’ response to it at all.

When completing a mock ethical approval form from my university as a post-session activity, I was a little surprised with how short the ethical checklist was as I was expecting there to be pages and pages of ethical considerations as you find in the ethical guidelines published by BERA for example and the fact that only 100-200 words were required to fully explain how ethical considerations were going to be engaged with was also a revelation. I think that when completing this sort of brief formality when undertaking research, it will inevitably produce absences and silences when it comes to ethical issues as it is very difficult to predict ethical dilemmas’  at the beginning of the research process which could arise as the research goes along and I wonder whether if this formality was completed again well into the research process, whether the ethical committee boards would be as agreeable as they were at the start?

The session also got me thinking about the ethical dilemma’s I might face in my research as I will hopefully interview practicing teachers and how the more negative aspects of teaching which I may look into could have an impact on their well-being and also their relationships with management and other stakeholders within their educational establishments which require some very deep thought.

Formulating research questions….argh.

After the session today I learnt two significant things;

Number 1: I think I see the purpose of research as a tool for change and this will subsequently affect my research design (i.e. more of an action research slant) and research questions.

Number 2: It’s OK to want my research to change some part of teacher’s lives, even if it doesn’t! (And this is also fine).

The last few weeks since I had my meeting with my personal tutor where we disussed the areas of research I am interested in have been difficult. This is because I have so many areas I want to research into when it comes to the experiences of teachers that I am struggling to pin down what my research will actually study. I have initially gone from wanting to know about the experiences of young and newly qualified teachers in the secondary and further education sector and the implications for future retention and recruitment of teachers, to parental and public attitudes towards the 21st century teacher and the media’s role in shaping these attitudes, to teacher stress, burnout and retention, to an accountaility and performativity culture in education and the impact on teachers and so on and so on. So what do I actually want to know??? And what do I want my research to do?? I think I am also struggling with identifying a ‘gap’ in the market in which my research could sit. If I look into teacher stress , what about it,  as there is so much literature around this area that I think everything might of been covered and the same with accountability and performativity and its affect on teachers? So once again I am back to square one.

One mini breakthrough arrived at the end of the session when I just said to my tutor plain and simply, ” I want to improve the experiences of teachers by giving teachers a voice”, “well” said my tutor, “it looks like you have your aim”. So from this aim I have come up with some objectives and research questions which are in their rawest form and may still change but if anyone can give me any sort of advice or guidance it would help me to stop going round and round in circles in my head!

Aim: To make improvements in the experiences of teachers within secondary and further education.

Objectives: 1. To explore the different experiences of teachers within the secondary and further education sector. 2. To examine/analyse how these experiences affect the professional and personal lives of teachers in these sectors. 3. To give teachers the opportunity to explore how their professional and personal lives could be impoved within education.

Research Questions and Sub-questions: 1. What are the experiences of teachers in the secondary and further education sector and is there a significant difference between the two sectors? 2. How do the experiences of teachers in these sectors affect their professional and personal lives? Sub-question: How are these experiences linked to job satisfaction and dissatisfaction? 3. How can teachers suggest ways that their experiences could be improved?

Please, please, please can anyone give me some advice on these!

 

‘Seminars as a way of collaborative thinking and learning’

In today’s theory and philosophy session, we explored the use of seminars as a way for students to think collaboratively and in new ways about certain topics or concepts in preparation for conducting our own seminar for our assessment. I have some experience of being involved in seminars when I was completing my undergraduate degree in sociology and I always found them to be extremely useful in helping me to think about a subject area or a particular sociological concept in a different or thought provoking way. For example, I remember being given stimulus material before the seminar which was usually a journal article or a newspaper article and then being asked to bring our thoughts and questions about what we had read to discuss and debate in the seminar. What is good about a seminar is that you can come out of it with a completely different perspective on a topic than what you went in with, as the seminar environment allows students to delve into issues in a lot more depth than you would in a lecture environment. A seminar may not necessarily answer questions or ‘solve’ a problem but what they can do is help students to expand or extend their strands of knowledge around a topic.

Although I have been involved in seminars in the past, delivering a seminar is a completely new experience for me and one in which I am quite nervous about doing. I think the role of the ‘leader’ of the seminar whether it is a tutor or a lecturer or the MRes group I will be delivering it with is to provide stimulus and questions which will provoke and entice the students into exciting and intriguing debate and discussion which bring to light new strands of thinking, which is quite a daunting prospect. Thankfully, I have lovely people in my group and I am sure we will work together well to deliver a useful and exciting seminar for this assessment.

If anyone has any advice on how to deliver a good seminar, please post your comments as all advice would be greatly appreciated!

Critical reading in preparaion for the literature review

In the most recent session for core design, we covered issues surrounding the literature review and how to engage with the texts critically but respectfully. This session was also very useful in identifying how a literature review should be used and how it can position a researcher’s work within their field. For the follow-up activity we are required to critically review a research paper and it’s contribution to our own fields. The field within education which I am interested in are the experiences and issues facing teachers in secondary and post 16 education establishments and the implications these may have for teacher recruitment and retention in the future, however at this point I am unclear on my specific research questions and aims and I am in the process of reading around a range of issues such as performativity, accountability, stress and health issues, public opinion and job satisfaction and dissatisfaction, but what I am sure of, is that within my research I want to give the teacher a ‘voice’ and find out what they think will help retention in the profession and what they think needs to be changed (if anything) in the education sector to recruit teachers in the future from the professionals who know the sector the most.

So with this in mind, I have chosen to critically review a research paper from the British Journal of Educational Psychology by Emma Jepson and Sarah Forrest (2006), titled ‘Individual contributory factors in teacher stress: The role of achievement striving and occupational commitment.’ This paper is from a peer reviewed academic journal published on behalf of the British Psychological Society which publishes articles in the area of psychological research within education. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind that although the article may make significant and valuable contributions in the field of educational psychology , it may be less valuable for educational and social research, but nevertheless, the issues the article draws on such as workplace stress and the impact on retention within the teaching profession are extremely insightful for my area of research.  The authors have identified gaps within the research in this field which have so far concentrated mainly on the effects of environmental factors and the impact of stress within the teaching profession rather than identifying individual ad behavioural factors which contribute to this problem and thus understanding why some teachers may suffer higher levels of stress than others (Jepson and Forrest 2006). Whilst this is an important issue when trying to establish how and why teachers suffer from stress, due to the psychological tilt towards individual rather than wider societal factors in contributing to stress, the content begins to narrow the impact  it could have for wider teacher retention strategies. However, the value for my area of research is that fact that the authors recognise and identify factors such as the gender of the teacher, the type of school a teacher works in, how long a teacher has been teaching and their working pattern (full/part-time) in contributing to stress within the profession (Jepson and Forrest 2006), which is useful to think about when carrying out my own research into the experiences of teachers in secondary and post 16 educational establishments.

As the authors are working within the psychology field, the methodology reflects this and the authors have used measuring systems and processes such as stress scales, behaviour scales and analysis of these scales such as exploratory factor analysis and multiple regression to gain their data. Again, due to the understandable hypothesis  stated by the authors, one would only expect to gain extremely quantifiable data which in my area of research would not allow me to gain the rich insight into teacher’s experiences and to give teachers a ‘voice’. Even though I would not necessarily use the research methods chosen by the authors I can see the value it gives when trying to identify the predictors of teacher stress and although I would argue that the interpretation of the data gained is slightly skewed, for example, the more committed a individual is to their teaching position, the less likely they are to become stressed (Jepson and Forrest 2006), it is useful to study a range of factors in determining the causes of stress and the implications for the retention and recruitment of teachers. The only contributions the authors make which I feel are quite limited in some respects are their recommendations associated with this type of psychological research such as, that it would allow educational organisations to potentially identify those teachers who are more likely to suffer from stress based on their type of behaviour pattern (Type A or Type B with Type A tending to suffer more from stress), and then offer them more support (Jepson and Forrest 2006). This, I feel would only add to the stress levels of teachers and could lead to discrimination and isolation within the workplace which is why in my research I hope to ask teachers directly what they would recommend to improve experiences within the profession if this is the case.

Reference

Jepson, E. and Forrest, S. (2006) ‘Individual contributory factors in teacher stress: The role of achievement striving and occupational commitment’. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76 (1) pp. 183-197.

 

Post Session Activity ‘Evaluating Research Design’

As I am interested in the experiences of teacher’s in education I chose to evaluate the research design of a journal article by Klassen and Anderson (2009) which looks at ‘How times change: secondary teachers’ job satisfaction and dissatisfaction in 1962 and 2007’. The study is a retrospective comparative study which uses research design, methods and data from a study carried out in 1962 by Rudd and Wiseman in similar research carried out by Klassen and Anderson in 2007 to compare the job satisfaction and dissatisfaction amongst teachers in Britain 45 years apart. The research questions for this particular study were;

  • “Have teachers’ reported levels of job satisfaction changed in 45 years?
  • Have the rankings of the sources of job dissatisfaction changed in 45 years for male and female teachers?
  • What do teachers say would increase their job satisfaction?
  • What are the implications of changes in job satisfaction and dissatisfaction?”

(Klassen and Anderson 2009, p.749)

The research design which the authors have used is more of a “fixed design” (Robson 2011, p.5) as the research methods and processes of analysis have been predetermined by the early study in 1962 which has a more positivist research paradigm. The study also aims to collect more quantitative, numerical data reflecting the ontological and epistemological positions of both the authors of the earlier study and the authors of this study. However, the third research question implies a more interpretist paradigm but the data gathered from this question was analysed using content analysis which is consistent with the original positivist research paradigm employed by the authors.

The data sources and methods used in the study is the original data produced by Rudd and Wiseman (1962) and the 210 questionnaires filled in by teachers in southwest England. The questionnaire used a similar format to the ones issued in the 1962 study that of, asking the respondent to rank their level of job satisfaction on a prescribed scale. However, in contrast to the 1962 study in which the authors asked the respondents to list their main sources of dissatisfaction and then carried out a content analysis on the responses to produce 18 categories, the authors of the 2007 study chose to use the categories compiled in the first study and ask the respondents to rate each one on a scale of 1-5. Also in contrast to the original study, the authors chose to ask the respondents to provide open-ended responses to the changes that would increase their job satisfaction (Klassen and Anderson 2009) and then subsequently carried out a content analysis to code the responses into 10 categories. Therefore, when Klassen and Anderson discuss their comparisons between the earlier study and their own, one may be quite sceptical on how similar the study’s actually were and how comparisons can be derived.

Although Klassen and Anderson highlight the previous limitations of their study, I believe that the data could have been enhanced with the inclusion of more in-depth interviews with a proportion of the sample group to gain a richer insight into the satisfaction and dissatisfaction of the teaching profession but this then ties in with my ontological and epistemological approach to research which is a stark contrast to the authors of this study. However, although the comparison element of the study can be criticised extensively, the results which the author’s gained are valuable in gorging the level of job satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and the ways this could be changed for the modern day teacher and the implications this could have for future teacher retention as well as student achievement and outcomes (Klassen and Anderson 2009) which the author’s address coherently in the implications for theory and practice and conclusion of their study. The purpose of this study is, in a way, to highlight the lowering levels of job satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the teaching profession of which the implications of this need to be addressed by policy makers and education officials which is similar to the original study in 1962 and in my opinion is only a good thing for teachers in education.

Reference:

Klassen, R.M. and Anderson C.J.K. (2009) ‘How times change: secondary teachers’ job satisfaction and dissatisfaction in 1962 and 2007’. British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 35 (5) pp. 745-759.